EU pushing IGB plan regardless of market test result

Bulgarian energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova’s recent assurance that construction of the IGB Greek-Bulgarian Interconnector gas pipeline will begin in October of this year and the project will be launched in the second half of 2018 certainly came as a surprise for certain authorities, given that the preliminary stage of a new market test being conducted, to check the project’s feasibility, has yet to be completed.

However, this declaration by the Bulgarian minister did not raised the eyebrows of officials closely following the IGB-related developments in Brussels. For them, it has become clear that the European Union wants the project to progress, and is making an additional effort to assure this is achieved. According to energypress sources, moves are being made for further EU financial backing of the project, which has already been classified as a Project of Common Interest (PCI), a status that guarantees EU funding.

According to some pundits, the IGB project will be developed even if the new market test does not produce favorable results. Ideally, a sufficient number of gas trading companies will commit themselves to a certain level of orders that would ensure the pipeline project’s sustainability. Even so, the market test stage, which follows the recent final investment decision agreed to by Greece and Bulgaria, is important, including symbolically.

The test’s first stage, entailing declarations of non-binding interest, will be completed on February 29. The second stage, to involve binding offers from traders, is expected to be finalized around April.

A first market test, conducted between May, 2013 and September, 2014, failed to produce satisfactory results. But the final investment decision was signed as a result of the major emphasis being placed by the EU on the project, which will reinforce the region’s energy security and break Russian gas supplier Gazprom’s dominance. The US has also heavily backed the project.

Based on preliminary estimates, the project’s budget is estimated at 240 million euros, of which 220 million euros concern construction costs, while its annual operating cost is estimated at 4.5 million euros. Signalling this infrastructure project’s importance, the European Commission has committed 45 million euros of furnding for the IGB’s development.

Poseidon SA, a venture formed by Italy’s Edison and DEPA, Greece’s Public Gas Corporation, holds a 50 percent stake in the consortium established to construct and operate the IGB pipeline. Bulgarian state-run company BEH holds the other 50 percent of the IGB consortium.

The IGB pipeline is planned to run from Komotini, in Greece’s northeast, to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, for a total length of approximately 170 kilometers.